A Comparison of the Ideas about Culture of Matthew Arnold and Raymond Williams

1. Introduction

In this essay, I will discuss and compare the ideas about culture of Matthew Arnold and Raymond Williams. I will firstly provide a brief overview of each thinker’s ideas, and then offer a critical comparison of the two. I will argue that while both thinkers offer insightful perspectives on culture, Williams’ approach is ultimately more convincing.

2. Arnold’s idea of culture

Arnold saw culture as a process of ‘humanization’, whereby individuals are refined and improved through engagement with ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world’ (Arnold, [1869] 1995: 5). For Arnold, culture was not simply a matter of taste or aesthetic enjoyment, but was something that had moral and social value. He believed that culture could help to create a more just and harmonious society, by instilling in individuals a sense of shared values and common humanity.

Arnold’s idea of culture was elitist and Eurocentric, and he was highly critical of what he saw as the philistinism and materialism of his own society. He believed that the modern world was in danger of losing sight of its higher values, and descending into barbarism. Arnold saw culture as a bulwark against this tendency, and argued that it should be cultivated for its own sake, as well as for its social and moral benefits.

3. Williams’ idea of culture

Williams’ idea of culture was very different from Arnold’s. He saw culture not as something separate from or opposed to ‘ordinary life’, but as an integral part of it (Williams, [1958] 1985: 8). For Williams, culture was not simply a matter of high art or elite knowledge, but was something that was produced and reproduced in everyday life. It was the totality of people’s ways of living, including their material practices, their habits and beliefs, their language use, their values and attitudes.

Williams believed that culture is constantly changing and evolving, as people adapt to new circumstances and experiences. He saw culture as something dynamic and fluid, rather than static or fixed. Williams also rejected Arnold’s elitism, arguing that culture should be seen as something which belongs to everyone, regardless of social class or educational background.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that Williams’ approach to culture is more convincing than Arnold’s. Williams’ understanding of culture as something which is produced and reproduced in everyday life is more accurate and realistic than Arnold’s elitist idea of culture as something separate from ‘ordinary life’. Williams’ approach also has the advantage of being more inclusive and democratic, recognising the rights of everyone to participate in cultural production regardless of social class or education level.


Matthew Arnold and Raymond Williams both have ideas about culture. Arnold believes that culture is a way to improve society, while Williams believes that culture is reflective of society.

These ideas differ from each other in that Arnold's idea of culture is more optimistic, while Williams' idea is more realistic.

The implications of these ideas for society and individuals are that Arnold's idea could lead to elitism, while Williams' idea could lead to a better understanding of the relationship between people and their cultures.

One way to reconcile these conflicting perspectives on culture would be to acknowledge that both sides have valid points and try to find a middle ground where both perspectives can be respected.